A Comparative Analysis of The Secret Sharer and Heart of Darkness

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The Secret Sharer and Heart of Darkness, two of Joseph Conrad’s more well-known novellas, share striking similarities in theme, plot, character development, and symbolism. Each novella presents a seafaring first-person narrator who struggles psychologically with the concept of darkness and other deep themes. “Heart of Darkness is one of literature’s most somber fictions. It explores the fundamental questions about human nature: the capacity for evil, the necessity of restraint, the effects of isolation, and the necessity of relinquishing pride to achieve spiritual salvation” (Haskin). Conrad explores his major theme of human duality in both of his works.

Character doubling is a key element to both works, and this tool allows Conrad to explore good and evil. The Secret Sharer’s Captain refers to Leggatt as his double frequently, and Leggatt “must have looked exactly as I [the Captain] used to look” (Conrad, The Secret Sharer 13). The Captain becomes obsessed with his doppelgänger, who he pulls up on deck in the Gulf of Siam, despite the fact that Leggatt explains that he has murdered a man on the Sephora, his previous ship.

Doubling, in the physical and moral sense, is found throughout “The Secret Sharer.” The young captain and Leggatt are so similar that they seem to be twins, an identification that Conrad clearly intends the reader to take in more than one sense. Both men feel themselves to be outcasts — Leggatt actually so, because of his crime, the captain, psychologically, because of his newness to the ship and its crew. Leggatt can be regarded as the alter ego of the captain, perhaps a reflection of the darker, even criminal, aspects of the captain’s personality. Some readers have argued that Leggatt does n...

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... any case, both novellas, whose titles have much significance, explore humankind’s capacity for evil. Conrad’s The Secret Sharer and Heart of Darkness quite obviously explore the same themes, using very similar plots.

Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph. "Heart of Darkness." 1899. Project Gutenberg. Web. February 2012.

—. "The Secret Sharer." 1912. Electronic Text Center. Web. February 2012.

Haskin, Wayne E. "Heart of Darkness." Masterplots 4. (November 2010): 1-4. Literary Reference Center. Web. 25 March 2012.

Perel, Zivah. "Transforming the Hero: Joseph Conrad's Reconfiguring of Masculine Identity in "The Secret Sharer"." Conradiana 36.1-2. (Spring/Summer 2004): 112-129. Literary Reference Center. Web. 25 March 2012.

Witkoski, Michael. "The Secret Sharer." Magill's Survey of World Literature. (January 2009): 1. Literary Reference Center. Web. 25 March 2012.
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